THE DISTANCE FROM THE HEART OF THINGS by Ashley Warlick

THE DISTANCE FROM THE HEART OF THINGS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A richly textured but slow-moving southern family story from first-novelist Warlick, who, at 23, is the youngest recipient ever of the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship. After four years of college, financed by the beloved and difficult grandfather she calls ""Punk,"" Mavis Black returns home to South Carolina to be the bookkeeper at Punk's vineyards. Although her college was in a neighboring state, Mavis has not been home in two years. She had a life--and boyfriend--in her college town, but she knows that doesn't completely account for her absence. Returning now, she has much to figure out, including how to find her place again among the people who've always meant everything to her: her reclusive mama; her grandmother, Miss Pauline; Owen, her wild uncle, who's only six years older than Mavis and has always been more like a brother; and, finally and inevitably, Punk, the grand patriarch who's always kept everything going. And plenty is going on, including an extravagant wedding for Mavis's 33-year-old aunt, Hazel, major changes at the vineyard, and Owen's carousing, which results, eventually, in his disappearing from town altogether. Warlick writes evocatively about South Carolina, the vineyards, ""the smell of rotten peaches in the sun,"" and the Edisto River threading its way though the countryside. And--excepting the shadowy Mama--she has created characters of depth and real presence. But for all the plotlines, including the question of Owen's whereabouts and Mavis's on-again, off-again boyfriend Harris, there is nothing that truly carries the story forward. The trouble lies partly in Mavis's narrative habit of telling too much at times while at others--as if coyly--telling not nearly enough. At end, most of the unresolved questions remain unsolved, and, as we'd been kept distant from the heart of things, we're left with glimmers of a powerful story. Like the river: lovely and languid, but just as winding and elusive too.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin